How the Royals Celebrated Spring Festival? Palace Museum’s Latest Exhibition Shows You the Historical Traditions

In celebration of the most magnificent of all traditional Chinese holidays, the Palace Museum presents “Celebrating the Spring Festival in the Forbidden City” from 6 January through 7 April 2019 in the galleries atop the Meridian Gate.

Known in China as Spring Festival the holiday is recognised around the world as Chinese New Year. According to the Chinese lunar calendar, each lunar year begins sometime from late-January to late-February of the solar year. 2019 is the Year of the Boar.

This exhibition will begin on the first day of the last lunar month and end on Double Third Festival. It is a historic exhibition showcasing over 700 works, the largest quantity of art in the largest exhibition area for a single exhibition in the Museum’s history.

This exhibition presents the holiday theme with a showcase of historical art in the Meridian Gate’s central and wing galleries and with festive décor throughout the Forbidden City. Meanwhile, the visiting areas of the Forbidden City are transformed into a Spring Festival cultural experience with auspicious poetic couplets and images of guardian gods on the doors of palace halls, lanterns placed throughout porticos, and heavenly lanterns and longevity lanterns at the Palace of Heavenly Purity and Hall of Imperial Supremacy. The thematic décor presents traditional Chinese approaches to the holiday with additional highlights of Manchu idiosyncrasies as developed during the Qing dynasty (1644–1911).

The exhibition is presented in six sections introducing the historical celebrations. Let us walk through them all here.

I. Auspicious Invocation

This first section presents such indispensable features of Spring Festival as “blessing” characters (fu), poetic couplets, pairs of guardian gods on doors, and other auspicious decorations intended as prayers for good fortune throughout the year. Paintings for the new year, heavenly lanterns, longevity lanterns, and ornamental lanterns reflect unique characteristics of the imperial court. These and other items express the traditional beliefs of driving off evil spirits, praying for blessings, and other wishes.

On view are works of imperial calligraphy in the form of “blessing” characters by the Kangxi (1662-1722), Yongzheng (1723-1735), Qianlong (1736-1795), Jiaqing (1796-1820), and Daoguang (1821-1850) emperors.

II. Filial Sacrifice
During Spring Festival, families throughout China present offerings and sacrifices to their ancestors in the most solemn and important of traditional ceremonies. These rites are a way of remembering the virtues of departed loved ones and promoting filial piety.

This section provides a rare look at the spirit tablets of the Kangxi, Yongzheng, and Qianlong emperors used in the imperial ancestral sacrifices of the Qing dynasty. Additionally, the fasting and abstinence pendants used during the preparation period for imperial sacrifices display the exquisite work of the period’s artisans.

III. Imperial Kinship
The Spring Festival is a time of family reunion during which the annual festive banquet is shared in homes throughout China. This section introduces the opulent feasts of the imperial clan as shared by the emperor with empress, concubines, and members of the imperial clan, respectively. Designed in accordance with the imperial culinary archives of 1783, the exhibition presents historically accurate displays of the imperial feast.

IV. Diligent Governance
This fourth section of the exhibition includes a gallery-display of the Opening Brush Ceremony in which the emperor wrote for the first time in the new year in the east warm chamber of the Hall of Mental Cultivation and a rare presentation of a national treasure called “Eternal Territorial Integrity Cup” —a gold goblet with jewel inlays. During the ceremony, the emperor would write an auspicious message to invoke blessings for his dominion. In dynastic times, these messages—once sealed away in yellow boxes, which were never intended to be reopened—are now on view.

Additionally, this section shows some of the eighteen instruments of the harmonious musical ensemble used in the grand Spring Festival ceremonies at the Hall of Supreme Harmony in which the princes, dukes, and ministers bowed before the emperor and at the Palace of Heavenly Purity in which the imperial family bowed before the emperor.

V. Winter Recreation

This section showcases various activities during the winter months as enjoyed by the imperial establishment. Works on view include Amusements on Ice, which shows outdoors recreation on the three lakes collectively known as the Pools of the Supreme Fluid—namely, North Lake, Central Lake, and South Lake—located to the west of the Forbidden City. During the cold of winter, youths of the Eight Banners would perform acrobatics, sword dances, and other feats while ice skating. Indoors, the imperial family typically enjoyed operas at this time of year. The exhibition includes displays of costumes, stages, scripts, backgrounds, and other theatrical accoutrements.

VI. Universal Delights

While the five previous sections are presentations of various items in the exhibition galleries, this sixth section shows the splendour of the festival with decorative displays throughout the Forbidden City. The décor includes paintings and poetic couplets on doors, lanterns in palatial porticos, longevity lanterns, and heavenly lanterns.

Celebrating the Spring Festival in the Forbidden City

Dates: 6 January - 7 April 2019
Location: Meridian Gate (Wu men)

The Palace Museum

Opening hours: 8:30am - 5pm
Address: 4 Jingshan Qianjie, Beijing
Admission fee:

  • 1st April - 31st October|RMB 60 (excluding the Antiquarium and the Hall of Clocks and Watches)
  • 1st November - 31st March|RMB 40 (excluding the Antiquarium and the Hall of Clocks and Watches)
  • Students|RMB 20 (with valid ID required)
  • Seniors aged 60 or above, children below 1.2m and people with disabilities|Free

Enquiries: +86 10 8500 7421